“Who ‘knew’ the Rebbe? What was the Rebbe’s response to me when I let him know that today marked twenty years since I had first met him and he changed my life?” This Shabbos, June 23 (3 Tammuz), marks eighteen years since the passing of the Rebbe. We would like to present an inspiring article written specially for the Avner Institute by an individual who merited a special relationship with the Rebbe — Benzion Rader, author of Challenge, an inside account of Chabad of Great Britain and the Holy Land, which was published in the early 1970s under the Rebbe’s guidance.
Brilliance & Reflection
By Mr Benzion Rader
Some eighteen months ago, a Chasid — a renowned author, international lecturer and teacher – asked me: “How can one account for the phenomenon that shlichus in Chabad has grown faster since Gimmel Tammuz than before? That so many young men and women, many of whom had never known the Rebbe, dedicate their lives to carrying on the mission and ideals of the Rebbe?”
My instinctive reply was: “It is the Rebbe’s inspiration.”
I have pondered that question and my reply many times since then, particularly the phrase “many of whom had never known the Rebbe.”
Who “knew” the Rebbe?
When one views a rare and precious diamond and sees its fire and inner brilliance reflected in a myriad of exquisite colors, it is the reflection only from one or more of its carefully crafted facets. If one views the gem from another angle, one again sees its brilliance but the reflection is from another facet.
So it was with the Rebbe. The Rebbeim and Torah scholars saw his peerless scholarship from one facet. The scientists, academics, politicians, military experts encountered his exceptional knowledge of their individual disciplines from another facet. People from every walk of life who came into contact with the Rebbe saw it from yet another facet of his unique personality.
What everyone experienced and saw in common, because it could not be missed, was his unconditional love and concern for every Jew; indeed, for humanity as a whole.
How, and why, did the Rebbe inspire – and continues to inspire – a whole generation?
When asked how this generation could bring Moshiach when earlier more learned and pious ones had failed to do so, the Rebbe would reply with the dictum of Sir Isaac Newton: we are standing on the shoulders of giants.
The Rebbe was a giant — a giant whose feet were firmly planted on this planet, well aware of the diversions, difficulties and distractions, the cares and concerns, of everyday life. His head, however, was not in the clouds, but in the Heavens, so that he became a conduit between Heaven and earth, petitioning our needs and problems Above and bringing us the solutions, teaching us the way to overcome them.
The Rebbe was the consummate leader, and like every true Jewish leader throughout our long and often troubled history he enjoyed a relationship with Above that defies explanation. In fact, the Rebbe added a new dimension to the term “leader”; as the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, once remarked: “The Rebbe did not make followers; he made leaders.”
Slum to Mansion
An author once drew a comparison between the ancient Greek philosophers and the Hebrew Prophets. He wrote that “the Greek philosophers dealt with ‘the mansions of the mind whereas the Prophets dealt with “the slums.” He explained that the Greek philosophers occupied themselves with higher metaphysical concepts whilst the Prophets dealt with the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, man’s inhumanity to man, the relationship between Hashem and His people and their relationship with Him, the very nitty-gritty of life and living at all times. The Rebbe occupied himself with both “the mansions of the mind” and what the writer referred to as “the slums.”
The Rebbe conveyed the loftiest ideas in the simplest of language, making deep Torah concepts relevant to each individual and to the era in which we live. He had gifted vision; he saw opportunities and potential that was overlooked by others and he foresaw dangers and difficulties that escaped everyone else’s attention.
In the 1960s, the so-called “Swinging Sixties,” when religious and other leaders were bemoaning the rebelliousness of the youth, the Rebbe recognized the potential of these alleged rebels and the advantage that could be achieved if their energy were properly harnessed and channeled. His campaign to establish Chabad centers on all the major university campuses, first in the USA and, later, abroad, proved a resounding success. The “man in the black hat and the beard,” at first a novelty, soon became an integral part of Jewish student life.
Many of the “rebels” became attracted to the uncompromising truth, the friendly smile, the Shabbos meal that were offered by these young non-judgmental Chabad campus counselors and found that the things they were searching for in other sects, cults, etc. were inherent, but previously unknown to them, in their own faith and heritage. Their apathy and alienation were changed to a positive force for good. Many of these students later enrolled in Lubavitcher yeshivoth and are now themselves Chabad emissaries in different parts of the world.
The Rebbe was often the first to see dangers, too. From the late spring and early summer of 1973, at a time when other Jewish leaders were proclaiming that “it was quieter on the Suez Canal than on the French Riviera,” the Rebbe spoke continually of dangers to the security of Israel. He urged that young children be gathered for prayer and the performance of mitzvoth; their purity, their strength, would help avert a disaster. Unfortunately, the Yom Kippur War proved the Rebbe’s prediction right but, fortunately, the danger was averted; with G-d’s help, Israel again defeated its enemies. In answer to a suggestion that the Yom Kippur War was not as open a miracle as the Six Day War, the Rebbe demonstrated, in a letter that has been published, that it was an even greater miracle.
The Rebbe, too, was the first, almost the only one, to envisage the consequences of the “Who is a Jew” legislation in Israel. He warned over and over again of the dangers inherent in the iniquitous definition of “Who is a Jew” but obtained little support from other Jewish leaders. Today, decades later, those who failed to support him then now wring their hands at the troubles and disruptions it is causing in Israel and beyond.
Whilst others are content with dealing with the problems that Jews and Judaism experience on an ad hoc basis, short term “solutions” – a band aid here, a bandage there — the Rebbe had a holistic view of the Jewish Condition. When all others despaired of the future of Russian Jewry, the Rebbe was confident of its survival, despite all its then hardships of which he was only too aware. He had total faith in the future of the Jewish People and an undiminished confidence in our ability. It was that confidence that imbued, and continues to inspire, his “army,” as he often called us.
Sun & Stars
The previous Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, once remarked to me that the British Empire used to be called the empire of which the sun never sets; today, he said, Chabad has that proud title. That was nearly forty years ago; how that empire has since grown!
Every other empire in history was built on the same premise. A country, stronger economically or militarily, marched into another smaller or weaker country, annexing it. While the incursion may have offered some benefit, its main purpose was to avail itself of the potential, the natural resources, of the conquered nation. The procedure continued and flourished until some mightier nation overtook it or the indigenous population decided, for better or worse, that they wanted to be masters of their own destiny. In short, each empire was built on “taking.” The Rebbe had an ingenious idea: he built an empire on “giving.” That is why it continues to grow and to flourish.
The Rebbe must surely be the greatest philanthropist ever. He endlessly shared his wealth of vision and knowledge; he gave of himself without reserve and also taught many thousands how to give.
It is impossible to encapsulate the Rebbe even in a library of volumes let alone one short article. How does one convey his majesty, the regality of his every movement, yet his common touch? Time was precious to the Rebbe – I doubt whether he wasted a moment in his whole life – yet, despite this, the Rebbe had and made time for everyone, from the most eminent dignitary to the smallest child. When in his presence, one felt that one was the focus of his complete attention; at those moments nothing else seemed to exist for him.
How can one capture his smile that seemed to light the world, his vigor and energy, his attention to detail, the piercing eyes that seemed to invade one’s soul and discover its secrets, his prodigious memory and his knowledge of so many disciplines?
The Rebbe was more than the amalgam of all these qualities; he defies description.
Particularly as Gimmel Tammuz approaches, we are consoled with messages telling us that a tzadik is more effective after passing than he was when constrained by a body. This is obviously true, the miracles and wonders are still evident and they continue to flow. We receive messages telling us that after the passing of the previous Rebbe, the Rebbe explained that the sun is always shining; even when it is night on one half of the globe the sun shines on the other. The Rebbe then explained that, in the same way, “my saintly father-in-law is still present and radiant through the stars – the Jewish People.”
But living in England, we know the sun is always there but it is too often hidden by the clouds, even in summer. Even if we feel the warmth, we long for the sun to reappear.
The radiance of the Rebbe is undiminished, but his presence here is sorely missed.
In November 1986, while visiting New York, I realized that that day was the 20th anniversary of the first time I was privileged to meet the Rebbe. I wrote a short note to the Rebbe saying that it was twenty years since I was first privileged to meet the Rebbe and thanking him for everything my family and I benefited from in that period. I handed the note into the office at 770. I did not expect a reply. But even whilst I was still chatting to friends in the office, I received a response. The Rebbe had underlined ‘twenty years’ I had written in my note and started his reply with: “This, therefore, is the beginning of the third decade . . . .”
This was the Rebbe’s way. The past was something to learn from, to be guided by, but the most important thing was the present and the future.
This Shabbos marks eighteen years since Gimmel Tammuz. The warmth and inspiration is still there, the many young people who continue to do the Rebbe’s work with total dedication are a testimony to his leadership and to his legacy of inspiration, but it is also the beginning of the nineteenth year.
By continuing that legacy with greater determination and zeal, we can repay the Rebbe’s confidence in us to complete the mission to which he devoted his entire life. If we go the extra mile, we can make it happen.
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